© Rollin Tebbetts
Blogger’s Note: With Snowy Owls once again invading the Northeast this winter, here’s a revised version of my report on the last owl influx during the winter of 2011-2012. You’ll also find a map to recent sightings.
By Bryan Pfeiffer
Perched atop a fencepost along a barren cornfield, the snowy owl is a bird without country or concern. Driving snow and vicious winds don’t matter. You don’t matter either. The snowy owl doesn’t care that you’ve driven halfway across Vermont to see a bird. The snowy owl doesn’t even know you exist. Or if it does know, it doesn’t really give a damn about you anyway.
So you stand there next to the car, hands and feet already frozen, peering through binoculars at a creature that has flown here from someplace dreadfully colder than winter here in Vermont. Out there in its field the owl is languid, a frosty statue lazy to the world. Or so it seems. Then you cough, or curse the wind chill, and the owl spins its head your way.
At that moment the snowy owl will change your life.
Its eyes shoot you lemon-yellow laser beams from a fluffy white expression. In that single glance, the owl says, “I’ve seen icy places you can only imagine. Now go about your business, go lead your dreary life. I’ve got rodents to kill here.”
Our next What’s This? challenge materialized on December 4, 2013. Name it to win nature notoriety and $5 off any of my outings or workshops. Enter using the comments section below. (Fear not – I don’t publish incorrect answers.) Here are the rest of the What’s This? contests.
From my colleagues at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies:
Northern Amber Bumblebee
More than one-quarter of Vermont’s bumble bee species, which are vital crop pollinators, have either vanished or are in serious decline, according to a new investigation from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE).
After conducting the most extensive search ever for bees across Vermont, VCE has concluded that three of the state’s 15 bumble bee species appear to have gone extinct and one more may not be far behind.
“We’re losing bumble bees even before we fully understand their benefits to our economy and well-being,” said Kent McFarland, senior conservation biologist at VCE, a wildlife research group based in Norwich.
My What’s This? challenge returns from a long vacation. Hint: It’s neither a turkey nor a football. Use the comments section below to name it and win little more than respect and $5 off any of my outings or workshops. Here’s the complete list of What’s This? challenges.
Added December 2, 2013: We have a winner!
By Bryan on November 17, 2013
At dawn in the ornate village of Chambly, Quebec, at a bulge in the Richelieu River, restless gulls began to take flight. And five restless birdwatchers (many more would come later) began their search, scanning the river for an arctic ghost, the rarest of the rare, a Ross’s Gull.
With a gentle head, tiny bill, beady eye and angular wings, Ross’s is a dovish gull. Rarely does it stray far from its arctic breeding grounds. You want the audacity of hope? Find it not in Ross’s Gull. Find better odds in no-hitters or love at first sight. Few other birds provoke more wistfulness among birders here in North America. Ross’s Gull is a dream.
War and Climate and Us
Required reading in The Times from Roy Scranton, a soldier, author and philosopher. In this gripping essay about war, climate and humanity is our future – a fate with scarce shelter in the Anthropocene. Scraton writes:
Now, when I look into our future — into the Anthropocene — I see water rising up to wash out lower Manhattan. I see food riots, hurricanes, and climate refugees. I see 82nd Airborne soldiers shooting looters. I see grid failure, wrecked harbors, Fukushima waste, and plagues. I see Baghdad. I see the Rockaways. I see a strange, precarious world.
Our new home.
November 12, 2013
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
By Bryan on November 5, 2013
For the past eight months they have flickered and fluttered among us – tiny flashes of red, orange, yellow and blue floating above hayfields and dancing in flower gardens: Spring Azures, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Red Admirals, Monarchs and more than a hundred other butterfly species here in New England. But soon, when the freeze finally reaches the warmest corners, the show will come to an end. Our last butterfly of the year, probably a Clouded Sulphur somewhere, will flutter no more. Winter will finish off the 2013 butterfly season.
Or so we’re told. Continue reading…
By Bryan on October 28, 2013.
Two worthy dispatches from the writing life:
In Saturday’s New York Times, Tim Kreider, in Slaves of the Internet, Unite!, lampoons editors and publishers who ask writers to work for nothing. What Kreider missed was that this form of disrespect can sink lower for musicians, including my local Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, whose members sometimes have to raise money on their own in order to perform for no pay. (MCO is running a wine auction now.)
Next, on the practical The Open Notebook site, Anne Sasso reveals how to ace a 300-word story. It’s about strategic thinking before you write and ruthless pruning after – worthy advice not only for journalists but for writers most anywhere, including at the office.
October 23, 2013
Dear Montpelier Dog Owners:
Some of you are leaving dog crap around our city. On my walk this morning, I encountered this at North Branch Nature Center: four bags of crap at a plastic-bag dispenser placed there for your convenience.
It’s not a trash can.
When I went to refit that detached piece of PVC, I encountered two bags of dog doo stuffed into the pipe. Two more are on the ground.
The executive director of North Branch Nature Center regularly goes out to clean this stuff up. He refuses to ask his employees to do it. And he’s got better things to do for our city, including sharing nature with kids and adults.
I’m also finding bags of crap in Hubbard Park, where dogs run free.
Most of you are responsible. So please find ways to educate or police the irresponsible. A good place to start is the brand new Montpelier Dog Waste Management Plan, which features plastic bags and trash (crap) bins. It seems to be the right policy. Too bad we need it. Continue reading…
By Bryan on October 18, 2013
Yellow and brown and down to earth, they might appear dead. But they are not quite dead. They are the undead: zombie aspen leaves.
Find them as you walk the brown autumn paths – yellow leaves with a patch of green tissue radiating from the base of the midrib. Here in Vermont, these are mostly Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), but I also find the green on Big-toothed Aspen (P. grandidentata) and, rarely, Eastern Cottonwood (P. deltoides).
When a friend and I first encountered these some years ago, I collected a few and queried a handful of smart botanists for answers. Many had theories; none had an explanation. It wasn’t until I put a leaf under a dissecting microscope that I found it to be less zombie than something from the film “Alien.” The beast lies within. Continue reading…